As the crowds were increasing, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
I. THE JEWISH CHURCH. Delivered of the demon of idolatry, and having a house "swept and garnished," perfected with all external religious proprieties, it became possessed of the worse demon of hypocrisy - worse in that it was more hopeless. For the idolater may be and often is convicted of his folly and is led into wisdom and piety; but the formalist and hypocrite is scarcely ever, if ever, won from his unreality and spiritual pride.
II. MANY A CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Delivered from worldliness, from vanity, from vice, in the first instance, many a Church has cherished the cruel demon of persecution, or the evil demon of pride, or the dangerous demon of formality. And it proves to be harder to awaken the sinful Church, living under its Lord's condemnation, to a new repentance and a revival of religious earnestness, than it was at first to conduct it into his kingdom. Its last state is less hopeful than the first.
III. MANY A HUMAN SOUL.
1. Men go a very long way in the direction of heavenly wisdom. They listen, they understand, they feel, they purpose, they pray, they profess, they preach or teach Divine truth to others, they conform their conduct to the requirements of the Word of God.
2. In this good course they are arrested, and they return on their way. Their devotedness slackens; their habits of worship become less regular; their habits of life become less scrupulous; the "spirit of their mind" grows secular, and indeed profane; they fall out of the ranks of the earnest, and, at last, even of the reverent; perhaps they descend to the unworthy, and even to the criminal. Not literally, but metaphorically speaking, there are "evil sprats" in them. They "are gone away backward."
3. Thus returning, they have almost hopelessly separated themselves from Christ; the "last state of that man is worse than the first" (see Hebrews 6:4-6). Not that renewal is absolutely impossible, but it is so spiritually difficult and so exceedingly rare that it may be said to be morally impossible. You cannot restore elasticity to the spring that has been overbent. You cannot make pungent again the salt that has lost its savor. You cannot infuse new force into truths which an emasculating familiarity has deprived of their virtue and their interest. Far more hopeless is the condition of the human soul that has drifted away from Christ than the one that has never heard of his Name or never been impressed with his claims. Therefore what?
(1) Let the Christian teacher see that his work is deep as well as broad; that the roots of sacred conviction are well planted in the soil; let him not be satisfied with his "converts" when they only manifest feeling; let him be assiduous in his attention, earnest in his prayer, until he is well assured that the soul for whom he is watching (Hebrews 13:17) has yielded himself, fully and whole-heartedly, to the Lord his Savior.
(2) Let the Christian disciple be on his guard; let him "watch and pray" lest he come under the power of some insidious temptation, lest he "lose that which he has wrought," lest the powers and principles that are from God and that have entered and touched his soul should depart from him, lest evil influences that are from beneath should take possession of him; for in that sad event he will be in a far worse spiritual state, more hopeless and pitiable, than if he had never heard the voice of Christ, and never risen at his call. - C.
The sign, of Jonas the prophet
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. I shall ask your attention while I DESCRIBE THE PERSONS who are an evil generation that seek after a sign. We have among us many individuals who are aware that they are sinners, and are conscious of their guiltiness to such an extent as to be very uneasy as to their condition. They clearly perceive that sin will be punished by the Great Judge, and they are much afraid of the wrath to come. They anxiously desire, moreover, to find salvation; and, having long listened to the gospel, they are not ignorant of the way in which salvation is obtained; they understand the gospel in the letter of it to the highest degree. They are not unbelievers in any of the doctrines of the gospel; but illogical as their state is, they still remain unbelievers, with all this belief about them, and justify their remaining in unbelief by telling you that if they felt this, or if they saw that, or if this happened, or if the other thing occurred, then they would believe in Jesus, but not until then. They make different demands. There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. Others we have met with, who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now you must not look for this. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in Him otherwise. These I hope are rare cases, but in very frequent instances I have met with people who will not believe in Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls because they have not felt wretched enough. They have read in certain books of holy men who, when they were seeking a Saviour, were broken in pieces under the ponderous hammer of the law. They turn to such biographies, and they find the subjects of them uttering language similar to the book of Job, or to the words of Jeremy in the Lamentations. Ah! poor demented one, to desire misery, and to make your own wretchedness, and even your own unbelieving and wicked thoughts of God to be a kind of preparation for faith in Jesus Christ! It is a most insanely wicked thing, and yet many, many, many persist in unbelief because they think they are not wretched enough. Running to the other extreme, I have met with others who would not simply trust Christ because they were not happy enough. They have heard of the Christian's joys, and the peace, like a river, that evermore abideth, and they have said, "If I could get this peace, if this deep calm ruled in my spirit, then I could believe." As much as to say, "If I saw the wheat full grown in the fields of my soul, then I would begin to sow", whereas the sowing must precede the reaping. I have met with some who would not believe in Christ because they could not pray eloquently. "Oh," they have said, "if I could pray like So-and-So, to whom we have listened with the greatest pleasure at the prayer-meeting, then I could put my trust in Christ, and there would be some hope for me!" I have known others who must feel precisely like certain eminent saints have felt many years after their conversion, or else they cannot believe that they are saved. They will reach down the life of some holy man who had mastered his passions by long years of mortification, who had come to live near to God, and whose life was the heavenly life on earth, and they will mentally vow, "I must be just like this man," say they, "or else I cannot believe in Jesus." They say, in fact, to the Heavenly Physician, "I am sick and ready to die, but, Good Physician, Thou must make me as strong as Samson at once and on the spot, or else I will not receive Thy medicine," just as if the perfect spiritual cure of the soul were not a lifelong work of grace.
II. I shall now, secondly, SHOW THE FOLLY OF SUCH CONDUCT. YOU are seeking a sign, one of these which I have described, or some other.
1. You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God's love. What token of God's love to you can ever be wanted, now that He has given His only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"! I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God's love while Jesus Christ is before you, for herein is such love as nothing else can ever equal. What do you want a sign for? Why, to show, you say, that there is mercy for you. How do you need that? The very fact that you are alive shows how merciful God is!
2. You are also asking for useless signs. What evidence could there be now,, for instance, in mere dejection of spirit? You want to feel miserable you say: what evidence would that be of your salvation? It seems to me that you are like a man who would say that he would catch hold of a rope if he could sink so many fathoms deeper in the ocean, or that he would avail himself of a dispensary if his disease were so much worse. How strange that a rational man should talk thus! Despair is no help to faith. Sinful doubts cannot assist you to Christ; they may most effectually keep you from Him. are you not also seeking most unreasonable things? To ask a sign from God when He pledges His word seems to me to be out of all reason. You are a beggar, remember, and we have an old proverb that beggars must not be choosers; above all, how dare a beggar demand a sign before he receive an alms?
III. I shall now want a few minutes more, and your very serious attention, while I now LAY BARE YOUR SINS, your grievous sins.
1. My dear hearers, in the first place, you make God a liar. Is not this the testimony of the Holy Ghost, "He that believeth not hath made God a liar"?
2. In the next place, you insult God's sovereignty. He has a right to give signs or not, as He wills; but you do, as it were, say, "Thou shalt give me a sign or else I will be damned. I will not have Thy mercy if I cannot have it in my own way: great God, I will not be saved unless I can feel as I want to feel." O fling away this accursed pride of yours, and kiss His silver sceptre, and say, "Lord, save me as Thou wilt. I believe, help Thou my unbelief."
3. I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, "I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand." You say just the same. You cannot believe God's naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry.
4. Do you not see, moreover, that you crucify the Saviour? Those who nailed His hands to the tree were not greater sinners, even if they were so great, as you are who say to Him, "Bleeding Saviour, I believe that Thou hast died on the cross; I believe that Thy blood could cleanse sin, but I cannot trust Thee to do it; I have no confidence in Thee; I cannot, will not trust Thee. I trust my husband, but I cannot trust my Saviour; I trust my child, but I cannot trust my God; I trust my minister, but I cannot trust the Son of God exalted in the highest heavens." Why, this is crucifying Him — this is treating Him as a dog only should be treated.
IV. YOUR DANGER In danger of death: you admit that, and now suppose you die in the state you are in. Why, you are almost saved; you are awakened, you are aroused, you have many good desires, but a man who is only almost saved will be altogether damned. There was a householder who almost bolted his door at night, but the thief came in; a prisoner was condemned to be hanged, and was almost pardoned, but he hung on the gallows; a ship was almost saved from shipwreck, but she went to the bottom with all hands on board; a fire was almost extinguished, but it consumed a city; a man almost decided remains to perish in the flames of hell. So is it with you; except you believe, all these things which you possess of good desire and emotion, shall be of no service to you at all, for "he that believeth not shall be damned."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Because there is a radical fault in the prayer itself. It originates, where it ought to follow; it prescribes, where it ought to accept. There is a thorough upsetting and subverting, in such prayer, of the relationship of man to his God. In such prayer man goes first, and God is to go after. Man says, I will give the law to my God — I will tell Him what He ought to do — and then, if He does that, I will have Him; not else. The very prayer is presumption.
2. But again, Because the result thus reached is not the rest and the inheritance which God designs for us. A man who believes because he sees has not got at last the salvation which he came for. It is a poor inferior mechanical process altogether, this conviction by the help of signs.
3. We might add yet one other reason, and say, Because such proofs would hopelessly perplex and alienate the mind which expects the dealing of God to be uniform and consistent in all its provinces of operation.
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